A report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Wednesday totted up the amount of Pandemrix vaccine, which state health authorities were scrambling to obtain at the height of the pandemic, but are now disposing.
The issue has created bad blood between the state health ministries and their federal counterpart. The state authorities have the responsibility to fund and organise the purchase and administration of vaccines, but they have to follow the recommendations of federal authorities.
The guidelines were for the provision of vaccine for a third of the population - this is the minimum considered necessary to keep everything running and protect a population in general.
Yet the Germans proved less willing than expected, to have the vaccine – after a widely publicized argument between various medics about the safety of GlaxoSmithKline's product. It was said that Pandemrix had not been sufficiently tested to be administered to the public, after it was licensed in an accelerated process.
GlaxoSmithKline's initially slow production led to panicky efforts by authorities to secure the supplies they needed while the number of cases increased and the H1N1 virus spread across the world. In the end it turned out that not two, but only one dose was necessary to provoke the desired immune system response – and that for most of those infected, the disease was much milder than expected.
In the end only around seven percent of Germans took the shot, leaving the authorities sitting on stockpiles of the vaccine. Efforts to sell or even give the Pandemrix to other countries have largely failed, the FAZ reported.
Germany's largest state North Rhine-Westphalia bought up 7.1 million doses of Pandemrix when the pandemic was officially declared. Around a million of these were used, and a small number is likely to still be stored by doctors and pharmacists, leaving more than six million in decentralized state storage. Now that their use-by date has been reached, these doses will have to be disposed of.
Although the controlled burning of vaccine stocks is not expected to be terribly expensive – the FAZ said it costs around €100 a ton – the waste of money cannot be denied.
North Rhine-Westphalia had followed federal guidelines and bought in enough vaccine to inoculate a third of its nearly 18-million population – at a cost of €62 million. This leaves the authorities having to destroy around €46.9 million worth of vaccine – its purchase price plus two years of storage costs.
“We reckon at the end with costs of nearly €47 million costs,” said Serap Celen, the state's Health Ministry spokesman.
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Efforts made by the state authorities to get the federal government to shoulder some of the costs have repeatedly failed.
In total the states spent €303.2 million on Pandemrix, and are estimated to be left with around €250 million worth of soon to be out-of-date vaccine. Although there different batches have different use-by dates, the last one will be reached at the end of this November. Since the WHO declared the pandemic over, the vaccine is, “not much more than expensive waste,” the FAZ wrote.